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Even in death, rower's legacy keeps giving

| Friday, March 18, 2011

Brendan Foley would have been 30 years old this year, and the youngest members of Central Catholic's rowing team weren't even born when he rowed at the school.

Yet, the students who've rowed for the Vikings in the 14-plus years since Foley was killed while crossing Ardmore Boulevard in Forest Hills on his bike know who he is. His name lives on thanks to Irish Night — Row on for Brendan, the annual concert that has raised $210,000 since 1997 and helped both Central and Oakland Catholic's teams thrive.

"We wouldn't be able to do anything we do without Irish Night, all the way from practicing to winning races to being successful champions or attracting other kids to join the team," Irish Night committee chairman and former Central rower Peter Lynch said. "Everything from the team's daily operations up to the team's growth stems from the gifts that Irish Night has been able to give us."

Brendan was just a toddler the first time his father, Bruce Foley, fastened a life jacket around him and took him for a row in a traditional Irish boat, or curragh. As he grew up, Brendan would go to the annual Head of the Ohio races with his family, and by the time he started at Central, he knew he wanted to join the rowing team.

"He loved it. He was crazy for it," Bruce Foley said. "And he rowed stroke, that's the one everyone has to follow. You're the last one in the boat. There's the coxswain and then there's the guy rowing stroke. I think being an (Irish) dancer and knowing music helped him to keep a natural rhythm."

Brendan was riding home from the video store in December '96 when he was hit by a speeding truck, on a route he'd promised his parents he'd never take. He was babysitting his little sister, Emma, that night and had rented Disney movies for them to watch.

His teammates from his eight-person boat served as pallbearers at his funeral.

The very first Irish Night was three months after Brendan died as a way to purchase a boat from Duquesne for Central's program.

"I was thinking, well, one of the things I can do is put together a concert," said Foley, an accomplished musician and member of Pittsburgh group Guaranteed Irish. "We decided to shoot for March. Irish concerts work in March. And Central has that beautiful auditorium, so it all made sense."

When Lynch joined Central's team as a freshman in '01 they had two boats, one made in '89, and a newer boat that everyone wanted to row. It was the boat purchased after the first Irish Night, named Brendan Gerard Foley.

Central now has two four-person boats, four two-person boats, and six eight-person boats, each one named after a different member of Brendan's family. And in '08, with Emma rowing at Oakland Catholic, the family decided to include the girls' school in the proceeds. Emma Foley now rows for Duquesne.

"It's a nice legacy," Bruce Foley said. "Of all the different things we could do, it's nice having boats. It's nicer than a piece of granite, it's almost a living thing. And it's the most appropriate thing for him. I'm sure he would heartily approve."

Additional Information:

If you go

What: Irish Night • Row on for Brendan fundraiser for Central and Oakland Catholic rowing teams

When: 6 p.m., Sunday

Where: Central Catholic High School

Lineup: Tommy Sands with Moya and Fionan Sands, Hooley, Guaranteed Irish, with performances by the Pittsburgh Irish Reelers step dancing group

Cost: $20 general seating, $25 preferred seating, $5 children 12 and under. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling 1-888-71-TICKETS.

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